This review of Podkayne of Mars contains plot spoilers. You’ve been warned.
Podkayne of Mars is an epistolary novel written as the diary of a teenager girl, Podkayne, who hails from Mars. It also features notes (in the story, written in invisible ink) from her younger brother, Clark.
Podkayne’s parents have been planning a trip to Earth, but said trip is canceled because of the unexpected birth of Podkayne’s three younger siblings. Mars stores babies away for future birthing, and in this case, they thawed out the babies earlier than they were supposed to.
But Podkayne’s and Clark’s Uncle Tom has a trip planned, and he makes arrangements for the kids to travel with him.
Clark is a precocious and possibly sociopath child, and he stirs up trouble as they’re boarding by claiming to be carrying happy dust with him. He did this to distract the inspectors from his sister–the reader learns eventually that Clark has stowed away a bomb in Podkayne’s luggage. (Of course, Clark disarms the bomb before it can harm anyone on the ship.)
The ship they’re traveling on is bound for Earth, but it also has a stop planned for Venus. On the ship, the characters make friends and deal with situations. One especially entertaining section describes the procedures in place for a radiation storm. Clark also develops a crush on a woman named Girdie, who eventually decides to stay on Venus to work. Girdie also becomes a mentor figure to Podkayne.
Venus turns out to be a future-version of Las Vegas, and Clark spends much of his time there learning how to gamble (and how to win at gambling). The characters never actually reach Earth though, because on Venus they learn that Uncle Tom is more than just a kind, older figure. He’s actually an ambassador, and the powers-that-be on Venus have specific goals for how he’s supposed to do his job.
Podkayne, Clark, and Uncle Tom are kidnapped and tortured by the bad guys, but Clark eventually builds a bomb. They escape, but Podkayne is severely injured when she tries to protect a baby alien from the bomb.
Podkayne of Mars avoids a lot of the ickiness in some of Heinlein’s other novels, although the bad guys hint that Uncle Tom’s interest in his niece is more than avuncular. Clark’s an interesting character, and Podkayne herself is also a well-rounded, well-written character. She’s much more interesting than any of the women in Farnham’s Freehold, for sure.
The book seems to be truncated somehow, as if the story never really got started. It seemed odd that the characters never actually make it to Earth.
It was a fun read, but it’s far from brilliant.
What other people on the Internet have said about Podkayne of Mars:
- “Heinlein wanted the book to serve as a cautionary tale for parents that pursue their own goals at the expense of raising their children– this is the reason for Uncle Tom’s diatribe at the end of the book in the original, published ending. In his original, submitted, manuscript Podkayne died. ” – Popke Blog
- “I hadn’t read a strong female protagonist in science fiction until then.” –Ami Chopine
- “Really, you could almost enjoy the story until the last chapter. After that, you just want to strangle everyone. Starting with Heinlein.” – Jellyn’s Collection of Curiosities